Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Bear Makers

The Bear Makers

Andrea Cheng
For ages 10 to 13
Front Street, 2008   ISBN: 978-1590785188

Kata is waiting, yet again. Sometimes she feels as if she has spent her whole life waiting for something. During the war years, she was waiting for the conflict to end. At Aunt Erzsi's farm, Kata and her brother Bela waited for their parents to come and get them out of hiding. After the war was over, she waited for friends and family who were missing to come home. For a while, life was better. Then the Russians came to Hungary and everything changed. Her father's factory was taken away from him and now he is being paid less and less for his work. Mama spends most of her time making teddy bears and handbags, and Kata and her family live in fear that someone will give their names to the Secret Police. Kata's beloved brother Bela seems to be waiting for something, but Kata does not know what he is waiting for. Until he disappears.

For many days, Kata worries. Then, at last, the family gets a letter from Bela. He managed to get out of Hungary and he is in Vienna. Kata feels angry that Bela left without even saying goodbye. Why didn't Bela take her with him? How could he leave her behind? For some time Kata does not understand, but as the Secret Police tightens its grip on the people around her, Kata begins to see that Bela was right to leave. Kata helps her mother make the teddy bears, and she starts to wait again.

When World War II ended, many people around the world began to rebuild their lives. Then had optimism and hope, and they looked forward to a time when there would be prosperity and opportunity. For the people whose countries were enclosed by the Iron Curtain, life changed, but not for the better. In this simply written and very moving novel, we see what it was like to be in Budapest in the late 1940's. We see what it was like to live under Russian rule through the eyes of a lonely and unhappy thirteen-year-old girl. Moreover, as the story unfolds, we see her grow and mature into a young woman who struggles with childish feelings at times, but who finds a way to do what she can to help the people she loves.

Based on the story of her own family, the author of this book gives her readers a memorable picture of a difficult time in European history.